I remember attending an eight-hour seminar on my job, where experts educated new nurses about the transition we would experience in our profession. We learned about the change theory and the different levels of transition, from novice to expert. I remember not taking the two-day session very seriously, thinking that my accelerated three-year nursing degree had prepared me well for the workplace. Now that my one year of practicing as a registered nurse is coming to an end, I marvel at how much I’ve been changed.
My decision to enter nursing was rather sudden but the right one. I spent two years volunteering at my local hospital while completing my bachelor’s of science in genetics. Half of my academic time would be spent in the lab, reading journal articles and culturing bacteria. My weekends would be spent volunteering at a local hospital. When it came time for graduation, my passion for providing service to others trumped my love for research. At the age of 23, I decided to obtain my second bachelor’s degree and become a registered nurse.
The journey of completing nursing school shaped me into a more responsible, accountable, and mature individual. It taught me how to critically think, how to save lives, and how to advocate for my patients.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the psychological experience I would face during my first year of being on the job. While adapting to my new life of working 12 hours a day, surrounded by sickness and disease, the fragility of life became very real all of a sudden. I had to reinvent the definition of normalcy in my life. I remember being frozen during my first death, bagging the body in sheer terror. The second time around it became slightly less terrifying, but the experience still shakes me to the core every time.
I learned how to focus all of my energy and compassion into my patients and their family members for 12 hours of my day and come home to meet the needs of my family. During some of the toughest moments in my life, when I was facing personal grief, I learned how to compose myself into a cheerful and supportive nurse, who was there for her patients. I learned what it meant to have strength on an entirely different level.
I learned that you can never have enough compassion or empathy in this profession. Even during periods of burnout and exhaustion, you’ll be expected to provide compassion and empathy, as if you have a never ending supply of it. It helped me develop a newfound appreciation for the physicians I worked with. I’ve heard many complaints from the public about the poor quality of care the physicians and nurses provide, when in reality we are tirelessly caring for others every day of our professional lives, often during times when we might be needing care.
The experience of becoming a health care professional has not just been an intellectual one, but one of resiliency. It has humbled me in ways I had never imagined and taught me how to truly serve selflessly.
Mandeep Garha is a nurse.
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